“Jolie Blonde” began to circulate in Louisiana as early as the 19th century. Members of the Breaux family—Amédé (accordion), Ophy (fiddle), and Cléoma (guitar)—first recorded the waltz as “Ma Blonde est Parti” in Atlanta, Georgia, on April 18, 1929 for Columbia Records. Fiddler Leo Soileau issued a recording of the waltz in 1935 before Soileau introduced the first accordion-less string band arrangement of the melody titled “La Valse de Gueydan.” In 1936, the Hackberry Ramblers rebranded the waltz by recording their own string band rendition under the title “Jolie Blond.” These permutations set the stage for Soileau’s apprentice, a skilled player named Harry Choates, who made his mark on the musical world with his interpretation of the waltz. In 1946, fiddler Harry Choates recorded a Cajun tune titled “Jol Blon,” meaning “Pretty Blonde.” The recording was a big hit.
“Jolie Blonde” is considered the Cajun national anthem of Louisiana. When the English drove the French out of Nova Scotia, they were denied entry into the U.S. at many ports but were granted land in Louisiana because most settlers didn’t want to live there due to the immense amount of water. The French figured out how to build homes on stilts and built boats to travel to visit neighbors or pick up groceries. The Cajun fiddler would often stand in the middle of the kitchen or any other large room and accompany guests, who’d dance in a circle around the fiddler. To quote the famous Cajun fiddler, Michael Doucet, “…there are almost as many versions of Jolie Blonde as there are Cajuns.” Julie Lyonn Lieberman learned quite a few versions of this tune to put together the ideas she liked best and then arranged it for string orchestra.